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The Prisoner of Zenda (Large Print Edition) Hardcover – Large Print, August 18, 2008
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'Hope's Rattling Yarn seems to live on and on, even if it is not a masterpiece of its genre like Rider Haggard's She; it has been filmed no less than five times. Rudolf Rassendyll and Rupert of Hentzau have become almost household names and the imaginary Ruritania has actually become a standard English word. Perhaps Oxford will now reissue other Hope historical romances, such as Sophie of Kravonia. Brian Fallon, Irish Times
'this is one of those rattling good yarns whose heart is so solidly in the right place that one is prepared to forgive some shoddy writing at the margins' Daily Telegraph
`This fast-moving, well-placed romance reaffirmed the pride of English men in what they thought they had :a sense of justice, profound honour and adroitness, all worn lightly.' The Sunday Times
'a gallant guide to the way an English gentleman should conduct himself with foreigners and women' --Wordsworth Classics
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Top customer reviews
I remember watching the old black and white movie from 1937 when I was young. We would stay up just a bit late to watch the weekend features and this was one of many. I have to confess to not recalling that much of the story and reading the book was a great way to refresh my memory. Back then it went along nicely with all the swashbuckler movies of Errol Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. I always remembered the title and it probably fueled my interest in some of the classics like The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo.
As the story unfolds we find that Rudolf Rassendyll is telling the tale. It seems that he is attempting to live up to a promise he made to his sister in-law who believes he wastes his life away. He seems to agree, but in a way that says he feels there is little wrong with that or the way he chooses to live his life. It also unfolds that as he tells the story it may be for his own purpose since what he has to tell is best kept as a secret.
Rudolf's sister in-law is trying to set him up with a job with an ambassador as an attache. He acquiesces to her pleas to some extent and since that is 6 mos away he decides to set out on a bit of a vacation that turns into quite an adventure.
In opposition to the movie version Rudolf seems well aware of the scandal involving the Countess Amelia of the Rassendyll's and Rudolf the King of Ruritania. And the story of how every so often a generation has a child whose features recall those of King Rudolf; striking red hair and long sharp straight noses. So on this adventure Rudolf Rassendyll decides to visit the region close to Ruritania; without telling any of his family. On the train there he sees the alluring Antoinette de Mauban (who later plays a major part in the story), but does not take the opportunity to meet her.
After reaching the Ruritanian frontier he decides to get off at Zenda. The first thing that occurs, that is a bit disconcerting, is that people give him a peculiar amount of deference after seeing his face. But when he meets Colonel Sapt and Fritz von Tarlenheim who both serve the king, there is no doubt that his countenance is familiar to both and in their amazement they dawdle enough for him to chance to meet the king (another Rudolf). It becomes clear that the two could almost be brothers and twins at that.
As the plot would have it: what transpires next is that the King is incapacitated to a degree (by drugged wine provided by his brother Michael) that he'd be unable to participate in his up coming coronation and that would leave things open for Prince Michael to grab both the thone and Princess Flavia as his own. It's clear that Michael is behind this and the two King's men hatch a plan to have Rudolf Rassendyll take the Kings place while the King--hopefully--sleeps off the effects of the drug. They leave the King (safe) in the hands of the servants and make off to the coronation.
Everything goes without a hitch though as can be expected Michael is a bit suspicious. Princess Flavia is aware of some change in her betroth and is pleased by the change; leaving the plot open for the pretender to fall in love. And that's when things get complicated.
Michael takes the king as prisoner at Zenda and plots to remove the pretender. He keeps the king alive only because of the pretender and uses him as a means of drawing the three conspirators into a trap.
The story is not only the usual swashbuckling adventure but also a bit of tragedy and fits quite well along the shelf with my Dumas novels.
Of further note::
I found the following line interesting when compared to the famous line I've placed below it here for comparison. (A bit shorter, but still strikingly similar.)
The night was dark and very stormy; gusts of wind and spits of rain caught us as we breasted the incline, and the great trees moaned and sighed.
Hope, Anthony (2012-05-17). The Prisoner of Zenda (p. 89). . Kindle Edition.
It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the house-tops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.
Bulwer-Lytton, Baron Edward (2012-05-16). Paul Clifford - Complete (p. 9). . Kindle Edition.
The main character, Rudolf Rassendyll, makes a dashing hero and perhaps a slightly unreliable narrator. The woman he falls in love with, Princess Flavia (the king's cousin and intended), is a flat and idealized character, but her last scene gives her the kind of courage and honor the protagonist could only wish he possessed.
The story is a minor classic, a fast read, and very enjoyable entertainment.
In 1935, David O. Selznick added his own movie version to this much-filmed novel, and in the process created a cinematic masterpiece. My experience was to see the film first and then read the novel. I could not help but project that magnificent crew of actors into their roles in the novel----particularly since much of the narrative they speak is lifted verbatim and used in the film. In both spirit and content, this film version is a true and appropriate representation of the book. They both constitute grand classic entertainment.
A book is not a film----they are separate and distinct media. Yet in this particular case, each is very close to the other. What difference does it make that when Sapt refers to the English Rudolf as "the finest Elphberg of them all"---it is at the end of the film and in the middle of the novel? The point is that the value expressed is the same and makes sense no matter where it appears.
Many people today will find this tale of old Ruritania with its intrigues, sentimentality, kingly devotion, purity of romance and improbable situations too quaint and old-fashioned. It certainly would not be written or filmed the same way now----if at all. Yet---if you can suspend disbelief for just a while and allow yourself to become a part of the old world of Rudolf Rassendyl and his gallant friends as well as his nasty enemies----you will be in for a most enjoyable experience.
I enthusiastically recommend "Zenda" to anyone who is not ashamed to embrace decency and the other values previously mentioned. It is no sin to shed a tear in support of such ideals.